Just because everybody’s Irish on St Patrick’s Day, that doesn’t mean everyone can march in the parade. And the exclusion of gays from the parade continues its decades long tradition. Although the parades operate on permits issued by their respective cities, they are run by private organizations whose right to exclude LGBT groups has been upheld by two court decisions, one by a federal court in 1993, and two years later by a 9-0 Supreme Court decision.
St Patrick’s Day is an Irish national holiday that celebrates the Romano-British bishop who taught Christianity to pagan worshipers in Ireland, using the shamrock as a metaphor for the Holy Trinity. The spirit of the holiday serves as a force that unites diaspora Irish all over the world. But the holiday also enlivens the emotions of bystanders of all nationalities, hence the saying, “everybody’s Irish on St Patrick’s Day”.
And, in the United States, that makes for a profound irony. Irish immigrants fled to America during the potato famine that began in 1845 and killed a million people. Many of these desperate people settled in the Boston area where they were treated as a servant class and subjected to harsh ridicule. Today the Irish thrive in Boston and the Kennedy family serves as a an example of their perseverance and strength. So, in a way, the American version of St Patrick’s day is also a celebration of the Irish in this country.
The exclusion of LGBT groups from the communal centerpiece of this historical holiday runs counter to the trend of tolerance where, even in conservative states, bans on same-sex marriages are being struck down. In Ireland itself, gays march in St. Patrick’s day parades in cities like Cork, Dublin, and Galway without incident.
The Boston Beer Company, maker of Sam Adams, withdrew their decade-long sponsorship, after event organizers, the South Boston War Veterans Allied Council, snubbed an attempt, by Mayor Marty Walsh, to strike compromise between the Council and the LGBT advocacy group, MassEquality. Walsh and New York mayor Bill DeBlasio have both committed to boycotting the parades in their respective cities.
The South Boston War Veterans Council maintains that an organization called LGBT Veterans for Equality, an affiliate of MassEquality, misrepresented themselves as participatant in the parade on behalf of 20 veterans. The Council, unable to find evidence to qualify MassEquality as a veterans group, claimed that the organization attempted to join the parade under false pretenses. Apparently the group could only supply one veteran who knew of no other veterans willing to march.
Other details are not clear but the South Boston War Veterans Council states that they offered to allow the group to participate in the parade under the condition that they would refrain from openly advertising their sexual orientation, one of the written rules governing the event.
So once again, on March 17, gays will not march in what is, perhaps, the major city event of the holiday. There are, of course, reasons on both sides but, in the end, not everybody will be Irish on St Patrick’s day.
By Robert Wisnewski